Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi was arrested today by police as he joined bishops of other Christian denominations as they marched in a demonstration in solidarity with India's Dalit people, who are otherwise known as so-called 'Untouchable.'
Archbishop Couto was participating in a peaceful march to protest for the rights of the Dalits. The protesters had arrived in the area of Jantar Mantar in Delhi and were heading towards the Indian Parliament. They were met by police with violence, who arrested some of the protesters. Along with Archbishop Couto, Protestant bishops Alwan Masih, Roger Gaikwad and Vijayesh Lal -, leader of the "Evangelical Fellowship of India" - and John Dayal, a Catholic layman who is Secretary General of the "All India Christian Council". Christian leaders "will be released within this evening", added a spokesman for the Catholic bishops. A complaint has been lodged against the police for alleged assault and the battery for their attack on Catholic priests and nuns.
The march called for the repeal of the Presidential Decree of 1950 which legalizes discrimination, denying equal rights to Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin. The decree has extended to Sikhs since 1956 and to Buddhists since 1982. Religious minorities in India consider such measure "totally unconstitutional", "but the governments that have followed have turned a deaf ear", said Archbishop Couto .
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) issued a statement that it " is "shocked and dismayed". The Council noted that in a similar incident in 1997 some bishops were arrested for defending the Dalits.
Some political leaders like Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram, have expressed strong support for the Dalit Christians and Muslims. She stated, according to the Fides news service, that "the issue cannot tolerate any further delay" and that it "should be brought to Parliament".
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